Hazleton Slapped With $2.4 M Bill

Wade Malcolm, Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), September 1, 2007

In a 28-page document filed Friday, the attorneys who successfully challenged the illegal immigration ordinance in court asked a federal judge to force the city to pay their legal fees and costs totaling nearly $2.4 million, which would equal about a third of Hazleton’s 2007 budget.

The city will challenge the amount of fees sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, other advocacy groups and private attorneys representing the plaintiffs, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta said, calling the $2.4 million total “absurd.”

“Their goal was to bankrupt the City of Hazleton,” said Barletta, whose city operates on a tightly constrained $7.9 million budget. “I think it is very obvious that the ACLU exaggerated their bill. We don’t believe that a judge will award that amount.”

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U.S. District Judge James M. Munley declared the Illegal Immigration Relief Act unconstitutional in a 206-page opinion released July 26, ruling it violated due process rights and infringed on the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration. In federal civil-rights cases, prevailing plaintiffs can ask the judge to force the defendant to pay their legal fees.

Munley has the discretion to award a higher or lower fee total if he wishes. The city has appealed Munley’s ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The city won’t have to pay any fees until the case is resolved, which could take years if the case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as both sides have vowed to do.

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Barletta has solicited donations totaling about $400,000 to legal defense funds from across the country, the mayor said Friday. As of late July, the city has already spent more than $200,000 of that money defending the case, according to account records provided by the city.

[Editor’s Note: The court documents can be read or downloaded in PDF format here.]

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